A Good Balance

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On a recent trip to Turkey, I visited the magical Cappadocia. While exploring the alleys of Uchisar, overlooking the surreal rock formations, I stumbled upon a stone building with roses creeping all over it.

It was Naile’s Ebru Art Gallery. Ebru is a classic traditional Turkish art technique of marbling on various mediums. I have been fascinated with marbling for quite a while and have been trying various experiments in the medium at studioHAUS. I was really excited to discover it, and Naile, the Ebru master and owner of the gallery seemed to share my excitement.

Naile Bozkurt has over 20 years of experience in marbling. She is recognised by the Ministry of Culture in Turkey and is a representative of Turkish abstract art.  Her creativity is boundless and she experiments with various mediums including wood, stone, ceramic, silk and creates prints up to 2 meters in size.

With my eyes and jaws wide open, I scanned every print in the beautiful stone atelier. I was amazed at the various techniques and possibilities Naile has achieved with the art form. Ebru art is learned through a master-apprentice relationship and years of experience but I couldn’t resist inquiring about a workshop. I learned that she does demonstrations and conducts classes in the other room of the gallery. In no time I was scheduled for a one-on-one workshop.

I spent the day exploring Cappadocia but the only thing I could focus on was getting my hands on those brushes and sprinkling paint over the water bath to create my masterpiece.

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I was delighted when upon entering the atelier, Naile presented me with a print she made of the Battal marbling style I prefer. The level of detail in her composition amazed me; she had created a colony of cells that almost looked alive under a microscope. For my first creation, I wanted to recreate that print.

Naile is extremely unique as she uses all natural pigments and organic materials. For marbling you require a 3-7cm deep-water bath made up of a composition of tragacanth (cactus milk) and water. She uses natural dyes like indigo and crushed white and red stones from the Cappadocia area and other oxidized dyes. She crushes the dyes with marble for 1.5 hours and mixes them with extra collagen (cow enzymes) acquired from slaughterhouses, which are then stored for over 1.5 months.  All her brushes are hand made from stalks of rose branches with horse hair tips made to various sizes.

After understanding her materials, we began our marbling. She taught me the correct grips and paint dropping techniques while stressing on the word “balance”. “A good Ebru is a good balance,” she told me as I created my composition, and pointed out areas and corners that I overlooked.  “And a good balance is key for a good composition” as she guided me to mix softer shades with dark to create depths in the overall composition.

We tried various experiments with different techniques, dragging the comb through the bath to create tidal patterns and using a 4 headed needle to create flowers within our composition. She taught me how to make hearts, tulips and flowers and we ended up with a composition that looked like a crazy psychedelic garden. Naile’s husband kept popping into the workshop to see us in action, and seemed awed and amazed by my creations which gave me hope.

Of course I made mistakes and errors which caused me some amount of frustration, but Naile ripped up a piece of newspaper with a smile, dipped it into my bath and removed the error with the quick ease of ‘undo’ on a keyboard. I looked at her in awe and she stated, “I’m a magic woman”.